Halloween is one of America’s favorite holidays and costume parties. Adults as well as kids love to dress up in costumes and be someone different for a day. We are not alone as it turns out.
All around the world people in all sorts of cultures love to hold costume parties. People love to dress up in costumes and escape from their everyday life. Costume parties all over the world may be celebrations of life, religion, or culture but all costume parties have one thing in common – they are all great excuses to just party!
The Most Widespread Costume Parties: Carnival and Mardi Gras Around the World
Carnival is forty days of costume parties and festivities just before Lent, a period of repentance and prayer. The week before Lent, Carnival builds to a crescendo, ending in a big bash called Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). It is highly likely that the roots of Carnival started in Roman and Greek costume parties and festivals marked by drunken revelry.
Carnival is a fancy costume party celebrated all over the world in places such as India, Croatia, Russia, Greece, the Czech Republic, South America, North America, and all of Europe. For a long time, the most famous Carnival was the Venetian Carnival where masquerades and parades first began. Today, however, the cities most famous for Carnival and Mardi Gras costume parties are Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, where the motto is “laissez les bon temps rouler” or “let the good times roll”.
Carnival and Mardi Gras are marked by people donning elaborate costumes, street parties, music, parades, drinking, eating, and other fleshly indulgences. Of all of humankind’s costume parties, Carnival and Mardi Gras are probably the biggest, most raucous, and most widespread.
Junkanoo: A Colorful Bahamian Festival with a Caribbean Beat
Junkanoo is a Mardi Gras-type costume party that takes place in Nassau, the Bahamas, on the day after Christmas and again New Year’s day. It was named after John Canoe, a slave chief who demanded three days off for Christmas to celebrate with his people. If you watched James Bond in Thunderball, you saw a bit of a Junkanoo parade during the chase scene through a crazy Caribbean parade.
Families work for months creating the elaborate costumes for Junkanoo. In a spirit of competition with other families, they make brightly colored headdresses and masks set off by sequins, feathers, and fringe. Anyone can participate in Junkanoo, however, by simply putting on a costume of body or face paint and wearing beads.
The costume party parade down Bay Street in downtown Nassau is marked by dancing, rhythmic Caribbean drumming, whistles, and copper bells. The parade starts after midnight and continues until almost noon. People come from around the world to experience Junkanoo, which is the Caribbean’s biggest costume party and can only be found in the Bahamas. To accommodate tourists, Junkanoo-type parades are also held on the weekends in July.
Día de los Muertos: Faces Painted Like Skulls Parade the Streets of Mexico
One of the spookiest-looking costume parties is Mexico’s Día de los Muertos – but all the creepy faces painted like skulls are actually a celebration in honor of the dead. This 3-day event begins on October 31, the day when Halloween is celebrated in the States.
You may feel as if you’ve walked into a Tim Burton movie if you visit anywhere in Mexico during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Adults as well as kids have their faces painted white, with deep set dark eyes and rows of unsmiling skeletal teeth.
For the first couple of days families stay home and make altars, praying for departed loved ones. Then on November 2 everyone joins a gruesome-looking “costume party” parade to the local cemeteries where their relatives are buried. Bands play in the cemeteries as families decorate graves with flowers and offer special food, like bread in the shape of skulls. There is some drinking of mescal, but overall the celebration is low-key, for this is a holiday for showing respect.
Queen’s Day, Amsterdam: The Orange-est Costume Party Anywhere
Though Amsterdammers really don’t need an excuse to party, they nevertheless celebrate a now-deceased Dutch queen’s birthday at the end of April. Wearing anything and everything orange is mandatory at this country-wide costume party.
Why orange? It symbolizes Dutch royalty and is the country’s national color. So throw on an orange wig and an orange toga and join two million people in Amsterdam at the world’s biggest street costume party. Boats float down the canals blasting electronic music, and orange-clad revelers amble from bar to bar to café. They don’t sell booze in the cafés, but they do sell an intoxicant… if you get my meaning.
Outrageous Costume Party in Key West
For a full nine days before Halloween each year, Fantasy Fest is held in Key West, Florida – and is one of the most outrageous, outlandish costume parties anywhere. On each of the nine days there are events, competitions, celebrities, and various kinds of costume parties, culminating on the last day with a huge parade down Duval Street.
Some of the events and costume parties include the King and Queen candidate brunches and dinners, the family-friendly Goombay Festival in Bahama Village, a vampire ball, the Headdress Ball, beach parties, a pet costume party, sexy costume parties, the Monster’s Ball, the Masquerade March Parade, and much, much more.
Ocean-Themed Costume Party on Coney Island, New York
On the third Saturday in June every year, a Mardi Gras-type costume party in Coney Island symbolically opens the summer season. Floats, antique cars, marching bands, and drill teams show off in the Mermaid Parade, followed by a festival of music, games, amusement rides, and lots of eating and drinking. Take the F train and you won’t have to worry about driving.
Participants dress up as creatures of the sea – mermaids or mer-men in homemade costumes of green wigs, sequined mer-tails, and seashell bras. Other participants go costumed as Neptune, fake-tentacled octopi, jellyfish, and even dress up as a papier-mâché boat or lighthouse.
After the parade, you can watch sideshows, burlesque acts, listen to live music, go on rides, or simply walk up and down the Boardwalk munching on a Nathan’s hot dog. In the past, famous people such as Queen Latifah, Harvey Keitel, Curtis Sliwa, and others have presided over the festivities.
Costume Parties Around the World
Wherever there are humans, there are bound to be some sorts of costume parties. There is something about painting your face, putting on a costume, and celebrating with music, drinking, and food that appeals to the human spirit. Wherever you are, don’t miss out on the local costume parties. Don’t just watch – join in!